A new program is helping Great Lakes Bay Region families cover child-care expenses

Working parents and their employers in the Great Lakes Bay Region are getting a little help from the State of Michigan with child-care expenses.  

The Michigan Women’s Commission (MWC) awarded a $300,000 grant to the Saginaw Intermediate School District to offer the MI Tri-Share Child Care Program to employers and employees in the Great Lakes Bay Region.  The MWC  is located within the State of Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Through the program, child-care expenses are shared by an employer, the employee, and the State of Michigan with each contributing up to one-third of the costs. For example, under this program, an employee paying $9,000 in annual child care services will now pay $3,000, the employer will cover $3,000, and the State of Michigan will cover $3,000. Participating employers within Bay, Arenac, Midland, Isabella, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, and Saginaw counties will also receive a tax credit at the end of the year to mitigate the employer’s contributions.

Currently, four employers in the region have expressed interest in the program participation - Vantage Plastics of Standish,  Fullerton Tool of Saginaw, Forward Corporation, which has businesses across 24 Michigan counties, and The Design Company, based in Standish. Rich Van Tol, director of the Great Start Collaborative at the Bay-Arenac ISD, says the program has room for more employers

“We’re absolutely still looking for employers,” Van Tol says. “Employers can reach out to me. We need more employers to participate. We’ll be trying to recruit more employers over the next month or two.”

Van Tol hopes to help between 70 and 80 people in this area through the grant. “If employees are interested, they should contact their employer’s HR (Human Resources) department,” he says.

For many families, paying for child care is an obstacle to employment.

As advocates for expanded child care options, the MWC conducted a statewide survey on child care use which “Shows a majority of parents prefer to care for their children themselves or use family and friends for child care during the pandemic. When asked about post-pandemic care plans, nearly half of the respondents report a desire to send their kids outside the home to licensed child care centers.” Survey results indicating family needs, along with the desire to strengthen the talent pipeline for employers, were key factors for launching MI Tri-Share Child Care Program.

In 2020, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and the Business Advisory Council for Early Childhood created a community resource platform that connects local businesses with their community’s early childhood systems. In providing such resources, it gives local businesses the ability to better retain their employees, all the while connecting families with early childhood support and learning services. Read more about the program in this Nov. 5 Route Bay City article.

The program is open to additional applicants from qualifying counties. Participating employers must agree to identify and recruit eligible employees, provide the employer portion of each participating employee's child care costs, and maintain communication with the facilitator hub regarding each employee's continued employment and eligibility.

Eligible employees must be employed by a participating employer and have an income above 150% and below 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and not otherwise be eligible for the Child Development and Care Program (commonly called the child care subsidy).

Designed for working families, eligibility is targeted at Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) families across the region.

Paul Aultman, an owner of multiple companies including Vantage Plastics, says, “Child care has always been an important issue within our workforce. Availability is tight and our 24-hour operation can cause scheduling issues for parents. The Tri-Share program brings a great opportunity to help employees and parents with many of these issues at an affordable cost. Vantage Plastics is happy to participate in this program.”

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com